The Creative Toll of Arguing

Screaming Baby by Hendrick de Keyser, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

My memoir, Hope and Other Luxuries, tells about my attempts to cope with my daughter Elena’s anorexia nervosa. But it also tells the story of my creative life from the beginning of my writing career. I’ve decided to share those sections of my memoir that deal with creativity, writing, and publishing here on my blog.

The excerpt below, from page 252, relates part of an argument Elena and I had over how much she had eaten for dinner. We had arguments like these almost daily that year; by this time, Elena was eating nothing voluntarily. They caused real problems for my writing.

“If you eat a second slice,” I said, “I’ll drive you to Barbara’s tonight. If you don’t, I’m not going anywhere.”

Cue the expected rise in volume.

“This isn’t a party, Mom! This is a study session! Do you want me to do well on this exam or not?”

I am stone. I am solid rock. I will not give an inch.

“You always do this! You always mind my business! You ruin every single meal. Well, if you won’t drive me to Barbara’s, I’ll fail. Is that what you want, Mom—do you want me to fail?”

The waves break over me, but they only push me further into the ground. I am not moving. I will not budge.

At this point, Joe finally intervened.

“Elena, you know it’s important to get enough food in your system,” he said. “You have to think of your heart. Just eat one more piece. Please.”

And Elena did it—not for me, but for her father. She ate standing, glaring at me, taking four or five swift, angry bites, and then dropped the second piece of pizza half eaten beside the first.

“There!” she snapped, and she stormed out of the room.

I don’t care, I thought as I listened to her clatter up the stairs. I don’t care that my heart’s pounding and my dinner’s ruined and I’ve got no help now with the kitchen. All that matters is that Elena has more food in her stomach. That’s the important thing. I made Elena eat. That’s what counts. It doesn’t matter how I did it.

But later, when I tried to write, I was too worn out. Stepping into that fantasy world meant making myself feel sorrow, joy, excitement, fear—all the emotions my characters were feeling. But I couldn’t do that. I was too exhausted to feel. All I could do was worry.

So Martin did nothing. He did absolutely nothing. He simply stood and stared at me while his computerized German shepherd shifted from foot to foot and let out anxious little whimpers.

Do something! I told him. I’m here for you now. I need help. I need a distraction! Distract me!

And perhaps it surprised my editor, but it did not surprise me when Martin embarked on a death-defying quest to rescue his mother.

Text copyright 2015 by Clare B. Dunkle; text courtesy of Chronicle Books. Photo of Screaming Baby (Cupid and the Bee) by Hendrick de Keyser, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, copyright 2014 by Joseph Dunkle. To read my latest blog posts, please click on the “Green and Pleasant Land” logo at the top of this page.

This entry was posted in Anorexia nervosa, Creativity, Daily life, Elena Vanishing, Writer's block. Bookmark the permalink.

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